CommunityFDL Main Blog

Cardinal Mahony Turns Water Into Whine

I’m going to try to be charitable, but Cardinal Roger Mahony makes that very tough with his blog post on Thursday about what he’s experienced since the 12,000 pages of documents related to his handling of clergy child sexual abusers became public.  The water of baptism may be at the heart of the Christian church, but Mahony has turned that water into whine.

First, he misunderstands humility and humiliation. According to Thomas Aquinas, “the virtue of humility consists in this, that one keep himself within his own limits; he does not stretch himself to what is above him, but he subjects himself to his superior.” Humiliation is what happens when one goes outside those limits and gets caught at it, especially when one is caught trying to play God.

Humility is a virtue; humiliation is punishment that may teach someone humility.

That, apparently, is the part that Mahony doesn’t like:

Given all of the storms that have surrounded me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently, God’s grace finally helped me to understand:  I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility.  Rather, I am being called to something deeper–to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many.

Um, no. He is being humiliated because he has not served in humility.

Yesterday, he posted again on the subject of humility, looking at Ignatius of Loyola’s thoughts on humility in his Spiritual Exercises, and again makes clear he doesn’t understand what he’s been reading and praying for 38 years. Ignatius writes that the most perfect kind of humility includes choosing

  • poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches;
  • insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors;
  • worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent.

The key words that Mahony misses are “with Christ” and “for Christ”. Ignatius is saying that when a Christian accepts insults for following in Christ’s steps, that is humility. Since his record on handling sexual predators among the priests in his care became public, Mahony has been targeted with insults for following in the path of Herod. These are not the same thing.

In Thursday’s post, he makes this same mistake in trying to understand Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Despite the popular misconception, taking up one’s cross is not “dealing with whatever troubles your life”; it is dealing with the consequences of following Christ’s path of lifting up the lowly and proclaiming freedom for the oppressed, as Jesus described things in Luke 4.

As for insults . . . The prophets of the Hebrew scriptures were quite poetic in the insults they aimed — with divine approval and at God’s command, no less — at the priests, the kings, and the powerful of their days. One of my favorite prophetic insults is from Ezekiel 16, in which the prophet skewers the high and mighty of Jerusalem for their behavior vis-a-vis the poor and needy:

See, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ You are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and her children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed. Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have brought about for your sisters a more favourable judgement; because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

Calling the king a sodomite is not exactly subtle, and carries with it a lot of prophetic anger, which is kind of the whole point of being a prophet. Ezekiel was using humiliation to teach humility. But back to Cardinal Mahony . . .

Mahony’s problems and confusion in Thursday’s post get worse. Much, much worse:

To be honest with you, I have not reached the point where I can actually pray for more humiliation.  I’m only at the stage of asking for the grace to endure the level of humiliation at the moment.

In the past several days, I have experienced many examples of being humiliated.  In recent days, I have been confronted in various places by very unhappy people.  I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage–at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us.

Thanks to God’s special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.

Incredible. This is Caiaphas, asking God to forgive Jesus for blasphemy. Instead of simply standing there, Mahony might want to try listening to them. He might be moved to pray for his own forgiveness.

Let’s take a look at the call that Mahony speaks of so longingly, as expressed in the rite of ordination of a bishop from 1968. During the homily, the principal consecrator is directed to speak of the role of the bishop using these or similar words:

Through the ministry of the bishop, Christ himself continues to proclaim the Gospel and to confer the mysteries of faith on those who believe. . . .

The title of bishop is not one of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule.  Such is the counsel of the Master: the greater should behave as if he were the least, and the leader as if he were the one who serves.  Proclaim the message whether it is welcome or unwelcome; correct error with unfailing patience and teaching.  Pray and offer sacrifice for the people committed to your care and so draw every kind of grace for them from the overflowing holiness of Christ. . . .

I’m only a parish pastor, not a bishop, but somehow, I find it difficult to believe that the Gospel was being proclaimed through Mahony’s shuffling of rapists from parish to parish, or through his efforts to keep their criminal behavior away from the attention of the courts. Maybe I missed that class at seminary. Either that, or perhaps St. John’s Seminary and Catholic University of America may want their degrees back. But I digress . . .

Then come the questions of the bishop-elect, which include these:

Q: Are you resolved to show kindness and compassion in the name of the Lord to the poor and to strangers and to all who are in need? . . .

Q: Are you resolved to pray for the people of God without ceasing, and to carry out the duties of one who has the fullness of the priesthood so as to afford no grounds for reproach?

On March 19, 1975, he said “I am” in response to these questions (and others). In his actions as detailed in the 12,000 pages of documents, his own words and signatures said something else.

Mahony placed protecting the reputation of the diocese ahead of kindness and compassion for those who were raped by clergy in his charge. He placed protecting the reputation of the diocese ahead of the safety of the children of his parishes. He placed his own reputation above those he was charged to serve. He placed covering up crimes ahead of justice for those who were victims. He said “I am” with his lips on that day in 1975, but with his pen as archbishop of LA, he said something quite different.

And next week, he’ll get a chance to answer a few more questions:

A judge cleared the way Friday for a Feb. 23 deposition of the former archbishop by a lawyer for a man who alleges that a visiting Mexican priest molested him three decades ago at his Montecito Heights parish.

In a closed-door meeting, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias said Mahony could be questioned for four hours about the priest, Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, and 25 other clergymen accused of abuse during the same time period, according to lawyers at the meeting.

Mahony has been deposed repeatedly since the late 1990s about his dealings with accused abusers, but the upcoming deposition will be the first since the release of 12,000 pages of internal church records about the abuse.

The alleged victim’s lawyer, Anthony De Marco, said he has 138 pages of archdiocese memos and records about Aguilar Rivera that were not available when Mahony was last deposed.

“It’s a vastly different examination when you have their contemporaneous notes,” he said.

It certainly is.

In Christian theology, baptism is a statement of God’s love for us, no matter what we have done or not done. If I might be so bold as to offer the Cardinal a bit of advice, he might want to lay off the whine and go back to the water. It will help turn the humiliation into humility.


Photo of Cardinal Mahony by Shay Sowden and used under Creative Commons.

Also, h/t for the title to Eli.

Previous post

Random Japan

Next post

Tweeting While the World Burns or: Elites Against the XL Pipeline



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.